STUDENT SUCCESS & Tips about outside resources learned while earning a PhD, traveling, speaking & writing 5 books.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 10/2/15.

Many people today are bi-vocational, multi-tasking students. While taking courses they must travel, work, take care of a family, etc. … and adding homework to the mix can be a chore.  I know.

A personal juggling act.

2000s.  I earned my Ph.D. while serving as Director of Graduate Ministries, the department’s only full-time professor, keeping up a national speaking schedule and writing five books … to say nothing of parenting four daughters (with loads of help from my lovely wife).

1970s.  When I first went to seminary and earned a MDiv, my wife and I estimated I purchased over $7,000 of books (and this was in 1977 dollars!).  With the advent of electronic sources students don’t have to do that today.  Yet, as I professor I want to help them rise to the level of graduate school education where we scour what has been written and bring the best and most relevant insights to increase our effectiveness of fulfilling the Great Commission with a Great Compassion.

1.  So, I did a lot of my reading in airports, and especially on planes.  I would take with me 3-4 books on a trip, and put one in my carry-on bag for each flight. Then while the plane is taking off and ascending to cruising altitude and traveling to my destination, I would read the book and take notes.  I literally have hundreds of books I have read while traveling.  And, you will notice that most people on planes take books or iPads to read, I just read books on my chosen field of study.

Graduate School is: masters-level and research-based.

My students understand that “research” is a distinguishing “mark” of graduate school. That is why when they graduate, the Academy (the scholarly profession) calls them a “master” of a topic.  This is because as professors we have observed in your work that they have “mastered” the topic by looking at what many good scholars have said about this subject.  In addition, research means finding and applying relevant resources and bringing them into the conversations with other students.

Integrating such research from numerous sources is a characteristic of graduate school education (where you are becoming a “master” of a topic by pervasive reading and studying).  My syllabi state that my students only need to quote 1-2 textbooks and 2-3 outside sources each week, but this level of research is for an average grade.  Most of my students cite more sources, usually 2-3 textbooks and 3-5 outside sources per discussion forum, and the same per paper.

Ideas for finding and conducting research amid a busy schedule.

But there is good news!  And that is that finding such sources today is much easier (when I was in seminary for my first doctorate (D.Min.) I sometimes sequestered myself in stacks of the library :-O  Today however, you can find an abundance of sources online.  Therefore, let me give you some ideas on finding relevant outside sources.

The following can be of help to writers, leaders, professors and my even students who are looking for reliable and valid research sources for discussions and writings.

2.  Many graduate-level students/researchers borrow books from their friends in the field.  Many communities, churches, schools, colleges and even museums have a nice sized libraries and are usually willing to loan them to a seminary researcher.

3.  You can often find books online available to download for free.  For example, Dr. Elmer Towns has 76 (yes, that’s right 76 😉 books on Church Growth (including The Practical Encyclopedia of Church Growth) that you can download free from his site:

4.  If you are an IWU or Wesley Seminary student, Off-campus Library Services (OCLS) can get you almost any book free.  You can search for books and request them by clicking on the OCLS “BUTTON” that appears on every MyIWU portal page.  It links you to the OCLS site:  The book will be mailed to you free, but it might take a week or so to arrive. Thus, requesting books from Off Campus Library Services (OCLS) is best to utilize when you are requesting books to use in your final Application Paper.

5.  In addition, the Off-campus Library Services (OCLS) has a website (which I’ve mentioned above).  It is and it can help you search for online journal articles. These articles can be immediately downloaded to your computer.  Just click on the You will be whisked to the OCLS site:  Once you are on the OCLS page, look for the section that says “Article Databases” and click on the one that says “Religion.”  Under the Religion category click on “ATLA (Religion Index)” and you will go to a search page where you can search for any topic.  (ATLA stands for the American Theological Library Association.) You will usually find hundreds of articles on your topic, so look carefully for the best resources for your discussion.  Also if you focus on articles  that are designated as a “.pdf” you can immediately download them to your computer.

6.  For a list of sources that an author or a professor might “recommend,” look for a “footnote trail” in your textbooks. These are footnotes in your textbooks, that can lead you to primary books that have important insights. As writers we put in “footnotes” because we are “recommending” them as original sources that are germane to the topic.  I am known for having many footnotes in my books for this very reason: to help students track down the original source and more data.  If during your readings for the week, you see a footnoted book that sounds interesting for your final paper, then email OCLS and they will send it to you in a couple of weeks.  It should arrive in plenty of time before your final Application Paper at the end of this course.  And remember, articles noted in footnotes can usually be downloaded immediately.